Please include Israel's captive soldiers in your tefillot: Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Chever.
Wednesday, 13 Sivan 5773 – May 22, 2013
The Torah in Parashat Behaalotekha tells of Miriam and Aharon’s
disparaging remarks about their brother, Moshe, in the context of which we are
told, “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more so than any other person on
the face of the earth” (12:3).
The Sefer Ha-yerei’im (232) cites this verse as a Biblical source
for the obligation of humility. He
notes that the Behag lists humility as one of the Torah’s affirmative commands
(164), despite the fact that there does not seem to be any explicit source for
such a command. The Yerei’im
thus suggests that the source of this mitzva is the Torah’s description
of Moshe Rabbenu, from which we can deduce the value and importance of humility. The To’afot Re’eim commentary
to the Yerei’im raises the question of how a description of Moshe could
be interpreted as establishing a requirement that is binding upon all of us, and
he suggests, “Nevertheless, it is obligatory for every God-fearing person to
endeavor to achieve a bit of it [Moshe’s level of humility] to the best of his
Other Rishonim suggest different sources for this mitzva. The Ramban, in his Torah commentary
(Devarim 17:20), claims that the Torah introduces a prohibition against
arrogance in its discussion of the Israelite king, where it requires that the
king write and study a Torah scroll “so that his heart does not become arrogant
over his brethren” (Devarim 17:20).
The Semag lists the prohibition against arrogance as one of the 365 Torah
prohibitions based upon the famous verse in Sefer Devarim (6:12, 8:11), “Be
careful, less you forget the Lord” (“Hishamer lekha pen tishkach et Hashem”),
which forbids feelings of arrogance whereby one forgets his status of
subservience and inferiority before the Almighty.
A number of writers addressed the question of why, if arrogance indeed
constitutes a Torah prohibition (or if humility constitutes a Torah obligation),
it is permissible to show somebody honor, which could easily lead to arrogance. Seemingly, putting somebody in a
position where he or she might likely become arrogant should violate the Torah
prohibition of “lifnei iver lo titein mikhshol,” which forbids
putting people in a position where they are likely to commit a transgression.
Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (cited in
Umka De-parsha, Parashat Behaalotekha,
5770, p.1) explained that although in principle showing honor would fall under
the prohibition of “lifnei iver,” in practice it does not, because the Torah itself requires us to treat others
respectfully. As we have an
obligation to show worthy people honor, this does not qualify as a forbidden “mikhshol” (stumbling block) placed in front of our peers.
We must fulfill our requirement to treat other people with respect, and
it is then their responsibility to avoid arrogance.
brings to mind an insight of Rav Yechezkel Levenstein (Or
Yechezkel – Middot, pp. 21-23) regarding the famous story of Rabbi Akiva’s
students, who were punished for not according honor to one another (Yevamot
62b). Many theories have been
proposed to explain why these outstanding scholars failed in this regard and did
not treat each other with respect.
Rav Yechezkel suggests that recognizing the grave spiritual dangers of pursuing
honor, Rabbi Akiva’s students figured they would be doing one another a
disservice by showing honor. They
withheld respect from each other thinking that this was warranted in order to
avoid the risk of arrogance. (See
Rav Yitzchak Blau’s
Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: The Ethics and Wisdom of the Aggada, pp. 44-45.)
The gravity of
arrogance must discourage us from pursuing honor, but must not discourage us
from showing honor to others. Just
as the Torah forbids us from experiencing arrogance, it also commands us to give
appropriate respect and honor to other people, and neither of these two commands
negates the importance of the other.
Rav David Silverberg
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